Probate has cropped up in the UK news lately, what with the government changing the system and having computer problems implementing it. Brexit has been a huge distraction too. The polemic over probate fees is still not solved although the overall rules haven’t changed. So what is probate then, in headline terms?
UK Probate 101: The Basic Legal Process
The law clicks in the instant someone dies. It respects the rights of the deceased over the assets they left behind. The state does not want to see a free-for-all and therefore the following process clicks in, usually in the hand of the executor:
- Confirm the deceased person’s will is genuine and valid
- Identify and list the property and assets in the deceased’s estate
- Appraise the value of those assets for tax purposes
- Collect money from any debtors, and pay all creditors
- Pay all outstanding taxes including death duties
- Distribute the remaining assets according to the will
If there is no legal will, then the estate is shared according to the laws of succession.
The Duties of an Executor of a Deceased Estate
A probate court appoints an executor unless the will nominates one. This executor must obtain the agreement of the probate court regarding the validity of the will (if any), the property and other assets, the debts to settle and who inherits the remaining balance.
Following approval the executor may then officially inform the heirs of their entitlements, and the creditors regarding moneys due to them. During this period, the executor acts as custodian of the assets of the estate which are effectively frozen until distribution.
We Were Married: That Sounds a Bit Heavy to Me
It may well do so, especially if you are the sole beneficiary. Here are the specific circumstances where a grant of probate by a court may be unnecessary:
- Where the deceased left a ‘small estate’ with few assets in their name, and a total value of a maximum £5,000. In this case the probate court will likely return the application, although it is prudent to make one.
- Where the deceased person held their assets jointly with one other person as seems to be the case with this question. In this instance, their share of their assets automatically transfers to the survivor.
- Where the only assets are either money in a bank account, or investments in premium bonds. In this instance their value does not require to be proven by an appraisal because it is an absolute value.
Could I Avoid These Complications by Planning Ahead?
This may make sense depending on your circumstances. Beneficiaries rarely benefit from the process and it involves their time and effort. Indeed, probate should be avoided if possible, unless the estate is complex and would benefit from legal oversight.
If you have a small, simple estate especially with a single heir they may appreciate it if you visit a lawyer whilst you still alive. A few simple adjustments could spare them complications, while they are getting over the anguish of losing you and being alone.